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U.S. Marine Corporal Ilene Munoz, meteorological oceanographic analyst forecaster, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, informs Women Marine Symposium participants of the changes in store for women in the Marine Corps, such as the role of women in combat, March 2, 2015, in the Central Command area of operations. The symposium was organized to inform the participants about upcoming changes for women Marines, to share the rich history of women in the Corps and to encourage leadership and esprit de corps.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Terika S. King

Learning from our past, leaning toward the future

10 Mar 2015 | Staff Sgt. Terika S. King Defense Media Activity

Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response - Central Command marked the commencement of Women’s History Month with a Women Marine Symposium March 2, 2015 in the Central Command area of operations.

"We held this because we wanted to celebrate women's history month,” said Staff Sgt. Becky S. Lam, a maintenance chief with Marine Air Control Squadron 1, SPMGATF-CR-CC. "I think it's important for all female Marines to know the history of how we came to be in the Marine Corps because it embeds a sense of pride in them."

The day began bright and early with a motivational run where the Marines took turns calling cadence as they wound their way through the streets.

"The run was very motivating," said Cpl. Elise E. Moreno, a maintenance administration clerk, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 363, SPMAGTF-CR-CC. “It brought us together.”

After the run, the Marines spent the morning learning about the colorful history of women Marines and the many trials they endured and overcame. Sgt. Maj. Denise M. Ruiz, SPMAGTF-CR-CC Aviation Combat Element sergeant major, said the presentation was one of the best she’d attended.

“It was fantastic,” she exclaimed. “I learned more about the history of female Marines in two hours than I’ve learned in 23 years!”

Other participants were blown away by how some things they’ve taken for granted were previously denied to women Marines. One Marine was surprised to learn women drill instructors have only been granted permission to wear the campaign cover since 1996; exactly forty years after male drill instructors began to wear them.

"It was surprising how many firsts we haven’t had yet," said Sgt. Jessica C. Brisbin, airframe mechanic, VMM 363, SPMAGTF-CR-CC. “[Women] have been on active duty since the seventies and to think we’re just getting the first female to command the recruit depot and to reach master gunnery sergeant in combat camera,” she said; referring to Brigadier Gen. Loretta Reynolds being the first female commanding officer of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in 2011 and Master Gunnery Sgt. Shalonda Raynor, who earned the rank just three years ago in the combat camera occupational field.

After the in-depth history lesson, the students were instructed to find a Marine they weren't familiar with to share the afternoon meal.

"I got to talk to female Marines from other squadrons," said Brisbin. “It was great to build that network and bridge the gap across the [military occupational specialties].”

Once the symposium reconvened, the Marines learned of coming changes in the Marine Corps from women in combat roles, to the possible new dress blue uniform design. 

“I like where the Marine Corps is headed,” Brisbin said. “Getting closer to uniformity is good. We’re all Marines and we should all have the same standards.”

Following information on upcoming changes, the Marines asked questions of a senior female leadership panel led by Sgt. Maj. Ruiz, Gunnery Sgt. Tula Alleyne, and Maj. Morgan Mannino, all members of SPMAGTF-CR-CC.

The group gathered around the panel and raised questions ranging from dealing with career setbacks and adversity to the best way to deal with the changes the Corps has in store for women Marines.

"I always joke that we have a way of eating our own,” said Ruiz after the panel. “But, this younger generation seems to look at each other as a sisterhood. There was no animosity or trying to prove who’s tougher. There was true community and esprit de corps. It’s good to know the Corps has such solid leaders in the making. There’s a future sergeant major out there, a future colonel, general, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps!”

The symposium concluded with the women Marines attending a women’s history month program organized by their sisters-in-arms from other U.S. services. 

Many Marines felt the conference was beneficial and hoped to be able to participate in more like it in the future.

“I would definitely suggest this to others,” said Moreno. “A lot of people feel down and demotivated. This would definitely bring them up!”